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Selecting cameras for museum, monument security means reviewing applications

Choosing the right camera for effective video monitoring in museums, or at monument sites, can be a complex process. The decision must provide a solution that is well-tailored to the unique needs of that museum or monument site. Such needs can vary widely. However, there are certain features users should look for when selecting security cameras for these applications.

The first such feature is an inconspicuous appearance that won’t detract from the public’s enjoyment of a visit to a museum or a monument site. A camera that is compact in size tends to blend into the background -- and although visible, won’t prove obtrusive to the general public. In an interior ceiling-mount location, a compact security camera is just one of many modern technologies -- such as smoke detectors, sprinkler valves, fire alarms, or loudspeakers -- that people live with at work, while shopping and in other public places. In an outdoor location, such cameras can be enclosed in a weatherproof, vandal-resistant dome mounted at some height above the monument or other site needing security monitoring.

Although they are out of sight to most people, anyone with mischievous intentions at a museum or monument is probably conscious of security cameras. Such a presence may provide a deterrent to their intentions. For example, a monument site, a security camera can capture video of a crime for later analysis by law-enforcement authorities. Museums, meanwhile, may choose to install cameras to provide video-monitoring capabilities not only among exhibits but also in employee areas -- depending on local regulations -- knowing that cameras can discourage crime.

Compact camera size, however, does not mean limited performance. Compact cameras are available in both stationary and PTZ versions. Depending on user need, they can be used separately or in any number of combinations. These cameras also can be mounted in a dome for protection and inconspicuous appearance. Best of all, they have a range of sophisticated features that can make them indispensable for security professionals. Such cameras can effectively be used to not only monitor museum exhibit areas, but also storage rooms, parking lots, monument areas and parks, and many other locations where theft or vandalism are a concern.

Additional considerations might include camera control and functionality, connectivity and installation convenience, camera-imaging technology and camera lens optics.

Camera Control, Functionality
When researching a video security-monitoring solution, it is important to consider the area that needs to be viewed, as well as its surroundings. Users typically agree that it is essential to obtain video coverage of all necessary strategic points. Some users may decide that a single PTZ camera with the widest possible angle of view is all they need.

Others may prefer additional fixed cameras to complement coverage from a PTZ camera. In a museum application, such an arrangement allows flexibility to monitor a particular exhibit with the fixed camera while viewing entrances, exits and surrounding areas with one or more PTZ. In a monument application, one or more fixed cameras may provide all the coverage needed, especially if they are mounted some distance away, for instance at a desired height on a nearby streetlight pole or building.

Full-featured PTZ cameras can be operated manually or programmed to tour multiple positions at varying zoom ratios on a preset schedule. The length of time that the camera stays at a given point can be adjusted from less than a second to as long as the user requires. A pre-programmed tour also can be interrupted at will by the security-monitoring professional for full manual control.

Connectivity and Installation
The most important trend to consider in security is the shift taking place from analog to digital, IP-based technologies. Closed-circuit systems of the past are being replaced by open and fully-integrated digital IP-based video systems that leverage the advantages of the Internet’s connectivity. IP-based security cameras are usually simpler to install and provide flexibility.

Cameras can be positioned throughout a museum or around a monument site and communicate through an IP network via a wiring set-up. The two-way communication afforded by the Internet increases the capabilities for remote camera viewing and control. For example, one or more PTZ cameras can capture video of a particular area at specific angles and zoom ratios at the discretion of a security-monitoring professional located wherever there is an IP connection. IP combined with advanced software allows users to remotely access and monitor one or more cameras at numerous locations and view video on multiple outlets, including laptops, PDAs and mobile phones, as well as traditional video screens.

With the help of IP security used to encrypt data streams and restrict access, users can even set up firewall access to secure the data flow to and from the camera for authorized users only.

Another trend is Power over Ethernet. Museums frequently change exhibit layouts, which may require camera repositioning. This can necessitate drilling to rewire electrical, coaxial or fiber-optic cables. Much of this inconvenience can be avoided through the use of PoE technology, which enables both DC electrical power and data to be carried over a single LAN cable when connected to a PoE hub/switch/midspan. Since a power cable is not required, the camera can be installed at sites without accessible AC outlets, which greatly increases ease of installation.

Imaging Technology and Optics
Video security monitoring for museums and monuments invariably entails dealing with a wide range of light levels, especially in exterior daylight locations such as museum sculpture gardens and monument sites. Low-light conditions can cause lack of video detail. Bright, low-light or high-contrast situations can cause inconsistent clarity, and varying lighting conditions can cause color inaccuracies.

When choosing a security camera, bear in mind that many have an option of day mode or night mode, but night mode in most cameras will actually result in a black-and-white image. It’s important to have a camera with good low-light performance so it delivers color images in low-light conditions. Low-light cameras take advantage of any ambient light available, even including natural sources such as the light emitted from a star-filled night sky. This kind of camera sophistication allows users to identify someone running in a green shirt with blue pants versus only being able to see the person, but not their features, due to a limited black-and-white image.

In regard to monuments and other outdoor environments, it is important to compare camera-zoom ratios and wide-angle lenses. Long-zoom capability enables users to see significant details. For example, if the camera is installed in an exterior location (e.g., at the top of a building looking down on a monument), a 40x optical zoom will give users the capability to zoom in to an automobile and read its license plate. Additionally, a very wide-angle lens will broaden visibility and ensure expanded monitoring of the location for optimal viewing of monument surroundings.

Motion-detection in museums and at monument sites is also an important feature, as theft or vandalism tends to occur at such locations when they are otherwise deserted. When motion is detected, the camera can be set to pan and tilt to follow the subject’s movement. With certain IP cameras, if a subject’s motion is detected, or if an external sensor is triggered, the camera can automatically e-mail the image with a notification to a desired Internet address for viewing on a computer, PDA, mobile phone or other handheld device. These types of cameras minimize human error because they are always analyzing. It is the intelligence at the edge that enhances video-security monitoring.

Choosing the right camera for effective video monitoring in museums or at monument sites can be challenging, but a basic understanding of what to look for should help users find which product is right for their needs. Security cameras can be an excellent solution for enhancing and ensuring the public’s accessibility to works of art and/or inspirational reminders of historical events.

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Ricardo Chen is the senior manager of technical marketing and marketing planning for the Consumer Imaging Group’s VCS Marketing Division at Canon U.S.A. Inc.

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